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Zone Coverage: With Michael Pierce out, Vikings need Everson Griffen back

Griffen has reportedly expressed interested in signing with Green Bay.
Everson Griffen

This story first appeared at Zone Coverage and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News

It seems like every direction is pointing toward the eventual departure of Everson Griffen from the Minnesota Vikings in the coming weeks. After he declined his option back in March, a small attempt to re-sign the defensive end led to an emotional farewell on his Instagram account before he signed with…wait…he’s still on the market? Seriously?

Yes, Griffen is still waiting for his payday after it seemed like the Vikings wouldn’t give it to him back in March. By waiting for other, bigger names to set the market, mainly Jadeveon Clowney, Griffen basically cost himself millions of dollars. As teams report to training camp this week, it seems like the door would be cracked open for Griffen to come walking through the doors at TCO Performance Center to reprise his role as a veteran leader on a retooled Vikings defense.

And yet, Griffen is still sitting on the market.

If the door has been cracked open thanks to the inactivity on the market, then a giant hole was impaled through an opening in the wall by a 340-pound juggernaut named Michael Pierce this week. When Pierce decided to opt-out of the 2020 season due to potential complications from COVID-19, the need for Griffen to return increased dramatically.

The thought of Griffen being an entirely washed pass-rusher is laughable after his performance from last season. While he didn’t put up the massive sack numbers he had back in 2017, Griffen looked a lot like himself after losing a large chunk of 2018 thanks to a mental health issue.

Griffen graded out 26th among qualifying edge rushers in Pro Football Focus’ grades last season, which considering every scheme uses two of them, he’s about a middle-of-the-pack to above-average edge defender. In addition, Griffen’s 66 total pressures ranked 13th among qualifiers and his 7.3 pass rusher productivity rating wasn’t elite (43rd), but it wasn’t completely awful.

His production in stopping the run wasn’t elite either, he had a 6.1% run stop rate, but that’s not what you’re trying to get from Griffen. Instead, you’re trying to get a veteran presence who can come off the edge and make the quarterback sweat before he even takes the snap.

Which begs the question of why Griffen would be a better replacement for Pierce considering he plays a different position. That’s because he’s better than any of the interior defenders that are on the market.

Damon “Snacks” Harrison has been elite, but is also 31 and would cost more than the Vikings would want to pay him at the moment. Domata Peko is 35 and was at the absolute bottom of remaining free agents on Rotoworld’s free-agent tracker. Brandon Mebane, Mike Daniels and Marcell Dareus are all players whose salary could be better used in acquiring Griffen or upgrading guard.

There seems to be a trend here.

Even on the Vikings roster, the addition of Griffen should be meaningful, even if they want to roll with Ifeadi Odenigbo as their starting end. Anthony Zettel hasn’t had a sack since 2017, and Eddie Yarbrough didn’t even play in 2019. Even Kenny Willekes has potential but may need time to develop into a rotational player as a seventh-round pick in last April’s draft.

The fact is Griffen is a better player right now than the players mentioned above and could help the Vikings with some positional flexibility. After spending his time on the edge last season, Griffen could be the player to free up Odenigbo to play more of a “joker” role to rush from different positions on the field. It makes sense considering Odenigbo played about the same amount of snaps at defensive tackle (70) as right end (73) last season.

Even if the Vikings didn’t feel comfortable with moving Odenigbo around, their playoff win in New Orleans showed that Griffen can also be a versatile piece, moving inside to four pressures against Drew Brees.

The issue, of course, is money, which could be rectified with Pierce’s decision to opt-out, generating at least $3 million in salary cap room this season, but a couple of extra bucks goes a long way in avoiding Griffen using his newfound versatility against you in Green Bay.

With the added news that Odenigbo was placed on the COVID-19 list on Wednesday, the Vikings could use Griffen’s presence anywhere on the defensive line. Unless Mike Zimmer is keen on the idea of having two levels of his defense having major question marks, finding a way to bring Griffen back is the right call.

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